October 10, 2006 By Tod Newcombe
We chose to focus on a handful of CIOs who we think represent today's IT executives in local government -- people who embrace their change-agent role and are willing to deploy new technologies that have an impact on the entire enterprise. They are also excellent communicators, managers and leaders.
One CIO not covered in this article is Dianah Neff, who recently left Philadelphia to take a job with the private sector. Many know Neff for creating a city-run wireless community network, a project that gained national attention as she navigated the uncharted waters of municipal wireless, much to the chagrin of telecom giants.
But Wireless Philadelphia wasn't Neff's first attempt to place city government at the crux of technological innovation. In 1994, Neff was in charge of IT for Palo Alto, Calif., a community in the heart of the Silicon Valley. One day she invited local businesses to demonstrate technology they thought might impact city government and taxpayers, among which was the World Wide Web.
Neff realized the Web could strip away the layers of bureaucracy that kept citizens from government, change the nature of transactions and spark a drive to integrate government systems. Within a few months she started the nation's first city Web site.
"The introduction of the Internet has changed forever the way governments relate to their citizens," she said during an interview in 2003 when she was named by Government Technology magazine as one of the year's "Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers." Neff also said technology has always fascinated her, but linking IT with a public commitment was extremely satisfying.
Not only did she have a gift for spotting innovative technology that could be harnessed by government, but she communicated the benefits in layman's terms.
Shortly after launching Palo Alto's Web site, Neff attended a conference where she sat quietly at a table with a PC, offering to demonstrate what the Web was and how it could help government. It was the first time I had seen this new technology, and like many, I was initially bewildered. But Neff explained succinctly how it worked and what it could do.
Twelve years later, the Internet has changed the face of government, and so will wireless. Neff's departure leaves a void among the ranks of the government CIO community. But as you read our cover story, take a look at the people we've highlighted. They are the next generation of CIOs to follow in the footsteps of trailblazers like Dianah Neff.
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